As one of the most well-known voices on country music radio today, Kelly Ford has been entertaining listeners for years with her humor and wit.
With stints in her hometown of Louisville, then in Denver and New York City, she planted roots almost a year ago in Nashville, aka Music City, USA, where she's been waking up fans alongside her male co-hosts Ty Bentli and country music artist Chuck Wicks with their nationally syndicated morning show, Ty, Kelly and Chuck on Nash 94.7 FM.
Despite the fact the country music industry has been portrayed as mostly male-dominated, that hasn't stopped Ford from moving forward and continuing the conversation. She's interviewed some of the biggest names in the business and was part of the team that brought the genre back to New York City which had been missing a country radio station for so long.
“What's awesome about New York listeners is they are choosing to listen to country and in many cases defending it while doing so with the passion of a New Yorker," says Ford. “Even a country artist will tell you that there is nothing like the fans there, they are off the hook."
Photo Courtesy of Ashley Hylbert
And while this Southern girl might still be able to walk into a few places unrecognized, once she starts talking her distinctive voice is a clear giveaway to listen up. She's not only living out her dream, she's paving the way for other young women to follow.
SWAAY sat down with the high-profile Ford to talk all things country, including the emergence of women in the industry, how social media has changed the game, along with some favorite spots in her colorful city.
As a woman in this business do you think it's harder to make a name for yourself as a radio DJ?
I have never been one to dwell on it, I've just forged ahead. Clearly, the playing field is not equal and has largely been a male-dominated industry for a while but I believe that's slowly changing. I think in a genre like this, it's reflecting society, and the roles of men and women are changing. My husband and I both have big jobs but he never thought his dream was more important than mine; we just figured things out as we went along.
Forbes magazine published an article in regards to the gender gap; when looking at the genre are there more female powerhouses taking over country in 2017?
It's a continuous battle but I do believe it's changing. Like everything else you have to get out there and the advice I give all young woman, including my daughter, is to get out there and prove yourself. If you dwell on it, not much is going to change.Miranda [Lambert] was in the studio recently and is probably the most recent person to bring up the ongoing efforts to make it more equitable [for women] and not fall into the notion that women want to hear a man, not a woman. She said on air, “You bet it's sexist" but the more people who step up and say that's not the way they want it the more it will change.
Miranda Lambert with Kelly Ford
Do you foresee a change in the near future?
I am extremely hopeful for this generation coming up; I see it in my daughter and my sons who are in college. There is a self-confidence and a self-awareness that I don't think I had when I was their age. Maybe my efforts are paying off even though I didn't know I was carrying the banner. I am a big believer that you can't dwell on what's wrong but focus on what's right; it's hard to deny success.
I want to help further young women any way I can. I grew up with sisters, went to an all-girls Catholic school and appreciate all that women have done in my life. Without those role models, I wouldn't have been able to become the person who just went for it. I never thought I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
This past summer you won a Gracie Award for Best Co-Host. What did winning that award mean to you?I am so grateful to have been able to reinvent myself after being in one market for so long; it goes to show you can do anything you want. For me, that win was everything and to be with a [male] team that I adore and encourages collaboration and isn't afraid to let me shine is a great demonstration of teamwork. And to be recognized separately for that part means everything. There is nothing more fulfilling than to have a group of women say hey, we are with you and we support you. It's a big part of what motivates me.
This wasn't your first award; what's it like to be recognized for the job you love doing?
It's a great feeling and I'm proud of it but more so as a woman, I hope it inspires others. But you have to keep it in check because if you believe all the good press you'll have to believe all the bad. I keep it in check but it's super-cool.
You've said social media has changed your life as a radio personality; in what way has that been true?
Social media adds a layer to you as a person and I think you can get a good sense of someone based on what they choose to post as well as what they chose not to. It's a connection that I can't necessarily add on the air because of time restraints. I am a freakish extrovert so for me to be able to connect is awesome. I didn't love the old school way where people just listen to the announcer; my favorite thing is interacting with others.
Do you feel social media is a game changer when it comes to advancing your career?
Yes most definitely. You're building your brand and the more I increase my brand and the trust with the people who listen to me, hopefully, I'll be creating a long time connection.
Nashville is ranked one of the top destinations to travel right now. What are you enjoying most about the city?
It's accessible yet not overwhelming. Broadway is only a few blocks long and you can find all you need in one place. There's live music in every bar and you never know who might show up. Here, everyone is a songwriter and it's a place that appeals to everyone who has a dream. And it's not just country music, it's become music city with a cool vibe. It's just enough cosmopolitan to make it sophisticated but enough homegrown to make you feel like you're visiting family and friends.
When looking to unwind where do you go?The woods here are spectacular and there are some great places to go hiking such as Lake Radnor and Percy Warner Park. I love rooftop bars; there's one that recently opened at the Thompson Hotel. When I'm missing New York it makes me feel cosmopolitan and chic. I love going to Cochon Butcher in Germantown [one of the city's historic neighborhoods.] And I love a good flea market. Once a month there is an amazing one at the Nashville fairgrounds where you can not only discover great finds but meet the most wonderful people with such great stories.
Finish this sentence, I am passionate about…
Anything that moves the needle!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.